Soon after posing that perplexing question, my five-year-old son, Joe, answered it: "Because He didn't want the humans to be scared." Making sense of the world isn't easy for a child, but I sometimes wonder if it's not easier for Joe than for me and other adults. After all, for him logic and cynicism don't get in the way of a concept like God. When he was four, for example, Joe gave a simple and self-confident definition of the Almighty: "God is like a sticky wind. When you feel him on your skin, you know he's there."
We're hoping that Beliefnet will be a place where adults and children alike can find answers to some of life's stickiest questions--or at least find other people similarly baffled, curious, or in awe. Beliefnet will provide information, inspiration, stimulation, community, and products and services to help you meet your own religious, spiritual, and moral needs.
We intentionally use those three words--religious, spiritual, and moral--in recognition that each individual is following a different path. Some will want to come and burrow down into our rich offerings about a single religion. Others will seek transcendent meaning, or help in leading a good and decent life, without organized religion.
Some will seek specific information: Where can I find the best Sunday school curriculum? What do I wear if I'm a non-Muslim attending an Islamic wedding? Where can I find a support group for people with cancer?
Others will seek: Interaction--with people who are believers and those who aren't. Discussion--with fans of C.S. Lewis, Veggie Tales, Rumi, or Touched by an Angel. Companionship--for those who are grieving or those who are celebrating. Support--from a prayer circle formed to pray for a sick child. The challenge--of studying Torah or Buddhist koans, or wrestling with ethical dilemmas. News and commentary--about the latest trends, controversies, and outrages about religion, spirituality, and morality. (Have you seen our astonishing group of columnists? Click here.)
We have no hidden agenda. We are multifaith, and we are not pushing a particular religion or approach. Our crew of producers, editors, columnists, and writers are some of the best journalists and thinkers in the country, themselves from a variety of traditions and approaches. Our goal is to provide you with the tools you need for your own search. Indeed, we'd like to become--pardon the pun--the Ultimate Search Engine.
Now here's an unusual sales pitch for a new website: I guarantee you'll find things on this site that annoy or even infuriate you. It's impossible to deal with issues of such importance without tripping over people's most dearly held beliefs. But we promise to try to be balanced, sensitive, and inclusive.
Perhaps I might make the mission of the site clearer by explaining why (besides the dinosaur question) I became convinced that there was a need for a site like Beliefnet. I'm a standard-issue American reform Jew, raised to know more about Jewish culture--onion bagel, Jewish; blueberry bagel, gentile--than Jewish theology. I married a wonderful woman who happened to be Presbyterian, which led us to series of dilemmas and choices. When we had the aforementioned child, I realized that it bothered me that our son wouldn't be considered Jewish under Jewish law, since the religion is passed down maternally.
My wife said she would be willing to raise the kids Jewish if we "really did it." Sensing a trick, I asked what she meant. She explained that when she was a girl she said the Lord's Prayer each night at bedtime. We would need to say the Jewish bedtime prayer every night.
I didn't know if there even was a Jewish bedtime prayer, let alone what it might be. So we consulted our rabbi, who told us that, yes, there is one--the Sh'ma, the cornerstone Jewish prayer. So now, a few nights a week, this interfaith couple sings our children the Sh'ma, sometimes before and sometimes after the Lord's Prayer.
I most certainly don't want to imply that this site is just for those in interfaith or interdenominational marriages (though 60 percent of couples now fall in that category). Nor do I want to imply that the goal of this site is an ecumenical desire to Get People Together. I tell the story because it seems a metaphor for what's happening in the rest of America, if not the world. Religious pluralism has not led to a dilution of spirituality. Instead, the opposite seems to be happening. So many forces have increased the exposure that a typical person has to other traditions and beliefs--the global media, the rise of interdenominational or interfaith marriage, ever-increasing mobility, immigration. Yet this cross-pollination has corresponded with a rising interest in spirituality and religion--of both the "seeker" and the traditional variety.
There is a need for one safe, reliable place to help people navigate this exciting, intimidating, confusing world. We hope you'll join us in making Beliefnet such a place.
Editor-in-chief & Co-founder